SOMEWHERE IN NW OKLAHOMA, THE HEARTLAND OF THE U.S. of A. — May 3, 2010. It’s been a long Sunday afternoon filled with soccer games driving across this great state plopped in the middle of this wonderful country of ours.
It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive from my nephew Russ’ family’s home north of Oklahoma City to great-niece Courtney’s soccer game at Weatherford in the panhandle of the state. The sun is bright, the sky is a crisp, cloudless blue, and the pastureland is bright green with the new grass that’s sprouted the past few weeks.
As we drove for miles and miles without any change in elevation, it crossed my mind:
“Christopher Columbus must have been from Oklahoma. No wonder he thought the world was flat.”
And it is. Flat, that is. Flat, flat, flat, flat, flat. Well, over yonder’s a little boop one might call a hill, but, otherwise, the terrain is, well, it’s flat. No wonder Curley, the romantic lead in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “Oklahoma” sang about the corn being as high as a elephant’s eye (and, yes, he said “a elephant”). The flat goes for miles.
It’s almost amusing to see the occasional house or little group of farm buildings sitting out in the middle of a gigantic expanse of pasture.
It’s almost as though they just sprouted out in the middle of nowhere. Did I mention this place is flat? Interstate 40 cuts a swath right through the middle of all of this with an occasional creek with its associated trees and vegetation meandering alongside the highway almost like an oasis complete with royal palms situated in the midst of nothing else.
But, then, the road resumes its flat, straight route. About halfway between Weatherford and Edmond, a bridge engineer decided to get cute and incorporate some pretty drastic dips in the bridge. It felt a little like Thrill Hill over in Rose Hill Cemetery except there were about six pretty good “I left my stomach back there” dips. I guess that was to wake up the drivers who, otherwise, have nothing to break what is an otherwise monotonous drive.
Along the way, we passed through Yukon, OK. (I thought Yukon was in Alaska, but Oklahoma has one, too.) This is the home of Garth Brooks, as the faded water tower sign proclaimed, as well as the home of The Millers, state winners of basketball, baseball, and football competitions, according to the more recent painting that wrapped around the tank. If the Millers get any more ambitious, the town will need a larger water tower.
Oklahoma is rife with new development — all in stacked stone or brick with steep hipped or pyramid rooflines. There’s a very distinct European character to all of this recent building: lots of turrets and cresting with metal accents on the roofs. The new houses are 5,000 square feet if they’re an inch and there don’t seem to be a bunch of foreclosures out here. Either folks are in a lot better shape, financially, than in other parts of the country or the foreclosures just haven’t hit here yet. (But what’s with the European architecture?)
In case you’re wondering, I’m not only visiting with Russ and his family, but attending the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Streets Conference. An annual event, the Main Streets Conference is an opportunity for professionals from all over the country to come together, learn more about downtown economic revitalization efforts, share successes, network with other professionals to learn how to address situations that can be better, and return home with new ideas and renewed determination to light a few fires under folks to get something accomplished.
As I write my master’s thesis on the Main Street design and how it is implemented in Georgia, the opportunity to sit in on the sessions here presents great insight into how the Main Street program has been received in towns across this great country of ours. There’s an air of anticipation as we prepare for the Main Streets Conference. As the program enters its third decade, it’s appropriate to have come to the heartland of America see what new ideas have taken root — even if it is the flattest place on the planet.
“Oklahoma! Where the wind comes sweepin’ cross the plain; Where the wavin’ wheat, it sure smells sweet, when the wind comes right behind the rain! — Oklahoma! OK!”— Curley, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.